japonisme: 6/1/08 - 6/8/08

06 June 2008

a private space disclosed


He drew hundreds of women
in studies unfolding

like flowers from a fan.

Teahouse waitresses, actresses,
geishas, courtesans and maids.

They arranged themselves
before this quick, nimble man
whose invisible presence
one feels in these prints
is as delicate
as the skinlike paper
he used to transfer
and retain their fleeting loveliness.

Crouching like cats,
they purred amid the layers of kimono
swirling around them
as though they were bathing
in a mountain pool with irises
growing in the silken sunlit water.

Or poised like porcelain vases,
slender, erect and tall; their heavy
brocaded hair was piled high
with sandalwood combs and blossom sprigs
poking out like antennae.
They resembled beautiful iridescent insects,
creatures from a floating world.

Utamaro absorbed these women of Edo
in their moments of melancholy
as well as of beauty.

He captured the wisp of shadows,
the half- draped body
emerging from a bath; whatever
skin was exposed
was powdered white as snow.

A private space disclosed.
Portraying another girl
catching a glimpse of her own vulnerable
face in the mirror, he transposed
the trembling plum lips
like a drop of blood
soaking up the white expanse of paper.

At times, indifferent to his inconsolable
eye, the women drifted
through the soft gray feathered light,
maintaining stillness, the moments in between.

Like the dusty ash-winged moths
that cling to the screens in summer
and that the Japanese venerate
as ancestors reincarnated;
Utamaro graced these women with immortality
in the thousand sheaves of prints
fluttering into the reverent hands of keepers:
the dwarfed and bespectacled painter
holding up to a square of sunlight
what he had carried home beneath his coat
one afternoon in winter.

Cathy Song
from Picture Bride by Cathy Song.
Copyright © 1983 by Yale University Press

if you have ever wished to make a round-the-world tour in the pursuit of museum exhibitions about kimono, this is the summer of your dreams:

Ohio, Melbourne, Ontario, Philadelphia, Maine, Oregon, Tokyo, & Wisconsin! (okay, okay. i know some of them have just passed and some are in the fall but give me a break.)

and to respond to cathy song's poem, i too question who was happy, who was sad. as does this movie:

for the true tales of a wearer of kimono, see this blog.

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05 June 2008

roundabout home

isn't it obvious?

does it remove anything from this stunning photograph by harold cazneaux to observe the clear influence of japanese design?

cazneaux is known as one of australia's finest pictorialist photo- graphers, but in no online discussion that i could find is that influence ever mentioned.

interestingly, though, i did find a really convoluted but fascinating 20-year-old discussion of the travel of that influence.

it's from the new york times, a review of a photography exhibition of the work of japanese-american artists.

What is now known, usually derisively, as salon photography, once represented the medium's best hope of being taken seriously as an art form, and Stieglitz was one of its leading practitioners.

But by the 1920's, its refined sense of beauty and its restrictions on both subject matter and composition conspired to make it an artistic backwater.

It was into this backwater that the twenty-nine Japanese- American photographers represented in the show dived headfirst.

From the evi- dence, they readily adopted its compositional tropes and its attention to chiaroscuro and texture, producing images with affinities to Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and sumi-e painting.

Ironically, the elements of Japanese style in these photographs come not from any inherent or native tradition, but from American Pictorialism's own Japonisme, which was largely inspired by the paintings of Whistler and the Post-Impressionists. 1

harold caz- neaux's work is being fea- tured this summer at the art gallery of new south wales.

i guess what must be happening is that all art is like jazz: people are always just riffing off each other. probably most never know where their influences come from because they're not analyzing, they're creating, being.

they're making art. and what do we care what pro- gres- sion got them there.

coincidentally, an exhibition coexisting with the cazneaux show is taisho chic.

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03 June 2008

only the wind comes


The wind again, this time wheeling
down from the northwest
and dumping rain, the wind-chimes in the yard
banging like hammers
and the gates slamming on their hinges.
And then it has passed
and it‘s time to go outside and
walk in the winter grass, the color now
of old celery and cardboard.
The yard is littered with tangerines,
hard and green.
Now it’s time to advance and gather them up. I am
not the chosen one to whom the Angel speaks.
I don’t mind. I don’t
believe I could bear up under that kind of pressure.
I don’t mind
speaking to the Magnificence,
night after night, without an answer.

Something was loose in the yard, that’s clear — something that asks
for a new way of speaking, which I haven’t figured out yet. Here
is a shingle gloved in moss and here is a branch in white fracture
recalling a human bone, and here is the sun breaking the cumulous
tower and here is the heart I abandon more or less regularly, lying in
a nest of wet leaves. I don’t mind. I pick them all up. I carry them.
I say a few words, but only in the eternal space in my head. It’s fine.
The sun keeps shouldering through, the crows are finding their wires,
the sparrows are eternal. The air is charged with incongrous smells,
clean linen, for instance, and sharp oxygen, and wet earth. I am
a presence among the scoured ruins. It’s time to stoop and collect.
It’s time to be quiet again, and poke and prod. It’s time to find
baskets for all this smitten fruit, round and perfect and shining.

Frank X. Gaspar


Today when I framed
two crows
in the notch of the ash tree,

I thought of order.
was in the forecast

and presto, rain. Then
three crows
in the field tilted the world

as if imbalance were
a blessing
dropped in the cup I keep

for blessings. Then
four crows
in the grass, five

on the wire, my plate
heaped up
with six crows.

And to give thanks,
to tell God
six crows were enough,

I lit prayer papers
in the garden—
their orange slippers,

their black, abstract
petals like
anti-confetti, like

hopeful ash, like
a thousand crows.
Then, a thousand crows.

Keith Ratzlaff

Colorado Review Volume XXX, Number 2 Summer 2003

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01 June 2008

What Is So Rare As A Day in June

AND what is so rare
as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth
if it be in tune,
And over it softly
her warm ear lays;
Whether we look,
or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur,
or see it glisten;

Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that
reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;

The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches
the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf
nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,

And lets his illumined
being o'errun
With the deluge of
summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs
beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast
flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world,

and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature
which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;

No matter how barren
the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now
that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and
the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but
we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;

The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted,
that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering
his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,

For our couriers

we should not lack;
We could guess it all
by yon heifer's lowing,-
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!

Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,-
'Tis for the natural way of living:

Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe

Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.

James Russell Lowell

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